Skip to main content

Commander John V. Babcock to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters.


June 21st, 1917.

My dear Admiral,

          When I called at Admiral Duff’s office this morning to enquire for any message he might wish to send to you, he told me that he was very anxious to know whether or not you could allocate at least eight of the destroyers to convoy duty and he asked me to write you on this subject.1

          Admiral Duff informed me that the Admiralty now entirely approves of the principle of the convoy system, that they have already put it into effect in respect of two convoys a week from Hampton Roads and that it will be put into effect for all ships under 15 knots as soon as cruisers are available. for accompanying convoys and destroyers are available for escort through the war zone.2

          Eventually eight incoming convoys a week will have to be handled, two from Hampton Roads, two from New York, two from Gibraltar, one from Canada and last, one additional convoy from the American coast for ships from 12 to 15 knots.

          At present there are only two convoys operating from Hampton Roads. The next step, and the one Admiral Duff is anxious to start as soon as possible, is one convoy from New York per week. To do this he must have one cruiser per week from New York and eight destroyers on this side per week to escort the convoy through the submarine zone.

          He is fully aware that you have made the strongest and most urgent representations to the Navy Department respecting the desirability of adopting the convoy system generally and that he will therefore have to await the Department’s action in regard to providing the cruiser for the convoy from New York.3 He says, however, that if you could allocate enough destroyers from the forces at Queenstown to take care of one convoy a week from New York he would provide the cruisers and start the operation of this convoy immediately.

          Admiral Duff wishes me to transmit to you therefore the following question:- “Can you place at the disposal of the Admiralty, eight destroyers for convoy duty, and if so, when?

          If these destroyers were allocated to this work it would mean that they would have to be kept exclusively on that work otherwise there would be a danger that the convoy would arrive on this side and that no destroyers would be available to take care of them. Although the time occupied in this work would probably be about five days a week, it would mean that the destroyers could not do much of anything else. Having eight destroyers available for escort duty at all times would mean allocating about eleven to that exclusive work as you would have to allow at least three being temporarily out of commission.4

          Admiral Duff appreciates that all of the destroyers are now occupied with the army convoys and that even after that work is finished you will, in making plans for the future, have to take into account the probable necessity of protecting food and munition ships bound from the American coast to the French coast carrying supplies for our troops.5

          Admiral Duff showed me a telegram from the British Naval Attache in Washington reading as follows:-

“Regarding your 87, U.S.Navy Dept. say that “their present intention is to have vessels under the command of Admiral Sims work in European Waters wherever he considers it to be the best advantage.”

I looked up No. 87 and found that it was a telegram from the Admiralty to the British Naval Attache in Washington asking him to ascertain from the Navy Department what their intention was in regard to the disposition and use of the yachts “NAHMA”. Admiral Duff, however, took his telegram to mean that the Navy Department had given you free hand as to the use and disposition of the destroyers and that for this reason you could allocate a number of them to convoy duty whenever you might see fit to do so.6

          As this question is an important one I am sending you a telegram through the Admiralty in regard to it reading as follows:-

“Admiral Duff enquires if and when you can allocate sufficient destroyers to convoy duty to have 8 available at all times for use in escorting through submarine zone one convoy per week from New York.”7

                                  Very sincerely yours,


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517. Babcock was Sims’ aide. Sims was then at Queenstown in temporary command of the base there.

Footnote 1: Rear Admiral Sir Alexander L. Duff, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff.

Footnote 2: The first convoy departed from Hampton Roads on 24 May 1917 and reached Britain safely on 9 June. with the first regular convoy departing from the same location 4 July 1917. Still Crisis at Sea: 345,348. Stackhouse, The Anglo-American convoy system in World War I 1917-1918: 35.

Footnote 4: Convoying took destroyers away from the anti-submarine patrol. Although the Admiralty and Sims were beginning to commit to constructing a system of convoys, anti-submarine patrols in the Western approaches to the British Isles and in the Irish Sea were still seen as a viable and necessary form of anti-submarine warfare. Here Duff is essentially asking Sims to commit destroyers for regular convoys but also requesting him to obtain more craft suitable for anti-submarine warfare from the U.S. Navy Department. See: Sims to Daniels, 20 June 1917.

Footnote 5: The first troop convoy left from New York on 14 June 1917 and was en route when this cable was sent. Still, Crisis at Sea: 357.

Footnote 6: NAHMA was a Scottish armed yacht transferred to the United States Navy. It would serve with the United States Navy out of Gibraltar. See: Josephus Daniels to William S. Sims, 9 June 1917.

Footnote 7: On this date Duff also sent this request by telegram through Reginald E. Gillmor.